21 thoughts on “Is Islamism a reaction to Colonialism?”

  1. So a little bit of Googling got me this (I didn’t even go beyond the first page of results). It is quite amazing how much research one can do on Google, if one wants.

    “Even before the arrival of colonial powers into the Islamic world, some scholars from diverse backgrounds were arguing that the faith and practice of Muslims had become distanced from the original message of the Quran and the Prophet, as the masses had adopted devotional practices, of which the devotion to saints is the most commonly mentioned, that they saw as unjustified innovations. They also felt that scholars had begun to give more importance to the centuries of scholastic tradition than to the original texts of the religion. For many, the failure of Muslim societies to resist colonialism was a sign of God’s displeasure in the corruption of the last religion, and therefore the correct response was to return to the era of the first Muslim community. Now referred to as “Salafis,” a reference to the salaf or early companions of the Prophet, those who hold this perspective are interested in the “correct” practice of Islam and reject anything they perceive to be innovations inconsistent with their interpretation of the model of the early Muslim community, focusing on Sufism and Shi‘ism in particular. Such reformers often look to the Quran and Sunnah as the only authoritative sources for Islamic law, but, to varying degrees, they ignore the inherent pluralism and the continued discourses of the sharī‘ah system in favor of a single interpretation of those sources. Some examples of these diverse movements are the Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia, and the Jama’a‘-i Islami of Pakistan. ”

    This is from The Harvard Divinity School, so the source is extremely credible.

    There is also this:



    I’m not particularly interested in Islamism. But feel free to discuss among yourselves.

  2. What is Islamism? Do all muslims deserve freedom from Islamism? Islamism believes in banning the free speech of muslims and nonmuslims in global society over the very long run.

    Are all the world’s muslims entitled to free speech? Or are only the world’s nonmuslims entitled to free speech? Why does free speech matter?

    “A Plea for Free Speech” in the words of Fredrick Douglass in Boston 1860:

    “BOSTON is a great city – and Music Hall has a fame almost as extensive as that of Boston. Nowhere more than here have the principles of human freedom been expounded. But for the circumstances already mentioned, it would seem almost presumption for me to say anything here about those principles. And yet, even here, in Boston, the moral atmosphere is dark and heavy. The principles of human liberty, even I correctly apprehended, find but limited support in this hour a trial. The world moves slowly, and Boston is much like the world. We thought the principle of free speech was an accomplished fact. Here, if nowhere else, we thought the right of the people to assemble and to express their opinion was secure. Dr. Channing had defended the right, Mr. Garrison had practically asserted the right, and Theodore Parker had maintained it with steadiness and fidelity to the last.

    But here we are to-day contending for what we thought we gained years ago. The mortifying and disgraceful fact stares us in the face, that though Faneuil Hall and Bunker Hill Monument stand, freedom of speech is struck down. No lengthy detail of facts is needed. They are already notorious; far more so than will be wished ten years hence.

    The world knows that last Monday a meeting assembled to discuss the question: “How Shall Slavery Be Abolished?” The world also knows that that meeting was invaded, insulted, captured by a mob of gentlemen, and thereafter broken up and dispersed by the order of the mayor, who refused to protect it, though called upon to do so. If this had been a mere outbreak of passion and prejudice among the baser sort, maddened by rum and hounded on by some wily politician to serve some immediate purpose, – a mere exceptional affair, – it might be allowed to rest with what has already been said. But the leaders of the mob were gentlemen. They were men who pride themselves upon their respect for law and order.

    These gentlemen brought their respect for the law with them and proclaimed it loudly while in the very act of breaking the law. Theirs was the law of slavery. The law of free speech and the law for the protection of public meetings they trampled under foot, while they greatly magnified the law of slavery.

    The scene was an instructive one. Men seldom see such a blending of the gentleman with the rowdy, as was shown on that occasion. It proved that human nature is very much the same, whether in tarpaulin or broadcloth. Nevertheless, when gentlemen approach us in the character of lawless and abandoned loafers, – assuming for the moment their manners and tempers, – they have themselves to blame if they are estimated below their quality.

    No right was deemed by the fathers of the Government more sacred than the right of speech. It was in their eyes, as in the eyes of all thoughtful men, the great moral renovator of society and government. Daniel Webster called it a homebred right, a fireside privilege. Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power. Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, founded in injustice and wrong, are sure to tremble, if men are allowed to reason of righteousness, temperance, and of a judgment to come in their presence. Slavery cannot tolerate free speech. Five years of its exercise would banish the auction block and break every chain in the South. They will have none of it there, for they have the power. But shall it be so here?

    Even here in Boston, and among the friends of freedom, we hear two voices: one denouncing the mob that broke up our meeting on Monday as a base and cowardly outrage; and another, deprecating and regretting the holding of such a meeting, by such men, at such a time. We are told that the meeting was ill-timed, and the parties to it unwise.

    Why, what is the matter with us? Are we going to palliate and excuse a palpable and flagrant outrage on the right of speech, by implying that only a particular description of persons should exercise that right? Are we, at such a time, when a great principle has been struck down, to quench the moral indignation which the deed excites, by casting reflections upon those on whose persons the outrage has been committed? After all the arguments for liberty to which Boston has listened for more than a quarter of a century, has she yet to learn that the time to assert a right is the time when the right itself is called in question, and that the men of all others to assert it are the men to whom the right has been denied?

    It would be no vindication of the right of speech to prove that certain gentlemen of great distinction, eminent for their learning and ability, are allowed to freely express their opinions on all subjects – including the subject of slavery. Such a vindication would need, itself, to be vindicated. It would add insult to injury. Not even an old-fashioned abolition meeting could vindicate that right in Boston just now. There can be no right of speech where any man, however lifted up, or however humble, however young, or however old, is overawed by force, and compelled to suppress his honest sentiments.

    Equally clear is the right to hear. To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker. It is just as criminal to rob a man of his right to speak and hear as it would be to rob him of his money. I have no doubt that Boston will vindicate this right. But in order to do so, there must be no concessions to the enemy. When a man is allowed to speak because he is rich and powerful, it aggravates the crime of denying the right to the poor and humble.

    The principle must rest upon its own proper basis. And until the right is accorded to the humblest as freely as to the most exalted citizen, the government of Boston is but an empty name, and its freedom a mockery. A man’s right to speak does not depend upon where he was born or upon his color. The simple quality of manhood is the solid basis of the right – and there let it rest forever.”

  3. What is Islamism? Let’s start here (what do I know? My specialization is English Dramatic Literature).

    “Islamism is a concept whose meaning has been debated in both public and academic contexts.[1] The term can refer to diverse forms of social and political activism advocating that public and political life should be guided by Islamic principles[1][2] or in some cases to movements which call for full implementation of sharia. It is commonly used interchangeably with the terms political Islam or Islamic fundamentalism. In Western media usage the term tends to refer to groups who aim to establish a sharia-based Islamic state, often with implication of violent tactics and human rights violations, and has acquired connotations of political extremism. In the Muslim world, the term has positive connotations among its proponents.[3]

    Different currents of Islamist thought include advocating a “revolutionary” strategy of Islamizing society through exercise of state power, and alternately a “reformist” strategy to re-Islamizing society through grass-roots social and political activism.[4] Islamists may emphasize the implementation of Sharia (Islamic law);[5] pan-Islamic political unity,[5] including an Islamic state;[6] or selective removal of non-Muslim, particularly Western military, economic, political, social, or cultural influences in the Muslim world that they believe to be incompatible with Islam.[5]”


    The point of the link above from Harvard University was to demonstrate that there is an association between Islamism (Salafism) and the colonial encounter. This is not an idea that I came up with as a Muslim. If Harvard University says it, it must be taken seriously. Even to argue against it.

  4. Did muslims kill/fought muslims for being insufficiently muslim before colonial encounter? Then islamism existed before colonial encounter as well. aurangzeb and his brother dara shikoh come to mind.

    1. The Shia Sunni civil war has existed since the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him). That is not the same as modern “political Islam” or “Islamism”.

      The Mughals all killed their brothers in order to secure power. Not sure that that has very much to do with Islam. It has more to do with not having a set system of succession (like the British monarchy had primogeniture).

      Anan specifically asked about the increase in “Islamism” post 1900. That is where the association with the colonial encounter comes in.

    2. Bharata you are right that the Islamist Aurangzeb oppressed the supporters of the wise Hindu Sufi muslim Dara Shikoh–killing huge numbers of Shia, Sufi, Sikh and Hindu. There are many examples of Islamism before 1900. That is why this question is specific to Islamism after 1900. Please share your views.

      I don’t fully agree with Kabir about before 1900. I think that most of the liberal strains of Islam emphasize Ali and Fatima (twelvers, sixers, fivers, Sufi). Not all of them are liberal but on average they were and are more liberal (Ali was nicer to nonmuslims and relatively liberal muslims than the three Caliphs that preceded him). But let us drop this discussion for now and focus on post 1900.

      1. Dara Shikoh was not a “Hindu Sufi” (whatever that means). He was a Muslim. The internecine fighting among the Mughals had nothing to do with religion. If you read Mughal history, you will find that killing your brothers to get the throne is a long tradition that goes back into the early days of the dynasty. Only the strongest prince survived. Kamran and Askari wanted Humayun dead. Not sure that had to do with their religion.

        Aurangzeb was not a nice person. Locking your dad in the tower and presenting him with the head of his favorite son is positively Shakespearean. But then Richard III also murdered the princes in the tower. People do what they need to to keep power. This is not what is meant by “Islamism”. Let’s stay with Wikipedia’s definition for the sake of clarity.

  5. I use the term “Islamism” because it is a shorthand that is easier for nonmuslims and non theologian muslims to understand.

    If you force me to elaborate on the definition of Islamism, I would say extremist Sunnis significantly influenced by the interpretations of Ibn Taymiyyah who wish to impose their interpretation of Islam on others.

    Many muslims inspired by Ibn Taymiyyah are good spiritual quietest people, including many quietist Salafis. I believe it is possible for these muslims to make significant spiritual progress with quietist methods consistent with many of Ibn Taymiyyah’s ideas.

    In addition to these extreme Sunnis; some twelvers loyal to Sayyed Khomeini and Sayyed Khamenei are also Islamists. These represent a smaller percentage of twelvers than the percentage of Sunnis that are Islamist.

    My definition of Islamist is likely to evolve over time based on new information.

    Quilliam’s definition is any muslim who wishes to impose their interpretation of Islam on society. Others define Islamism differently.

    I am deeply uncomfortable with analyses of Islam written by post modernist/marxist orientalist scholars who dominate global nonmuslim academia. Many wikipedia articles are also written from the prism of post modernism/marxism/subaltern studies. This said I agree with aspects of the descriptions of “Islamism” that you posted.

    1. It’s not about your definition. As far as I know, you are not a credentialed scholar of political Islam. If you have a master’s degree in the subject from a proper university (preferably Ivy League) , please let me know.

      The whole point of Wikipedia is that every statement is sourced. Those who choose to can go back and look at the original sources. The Wikipedia definition is a consensus one so that we are all clear what we are talking about.

      In any case, applying the word “Islamist” to nos ancestres les Mughals is deeply misguided. Aurangzeb may have been a puritan but he was not an “Islamist” in the 21st century sense.

  6. Knowledge if indicative of anything must be decided on prediction. Low prediction= low knowledge, less the value for phd. one might have degree in history or anything else for that matter, makes no difference. It has no practical value. Knowledge should be put to practical tests where it must succeed for it to be even seen as correct knowledge. Historians play 2 roles, record events of past as bunch of facts, give interpretation. Their interpretation can be questioned. One doesnt need phd or be a scholar to question, it is open to all.
    Aurangzeb brought back jizya, he killed his brother for not being good muslim. There was politics and the reason given was religious . One cannot divorce one from the other. As I said earlier, there are 210 reasons for why roman empire collapsed given by various historians. Foolish to go by what historians have to declare.

    1. I’m sorry. You need credentials to be credible. I could write about computer science, but since I know nothing about Python or Java, I would look really stupid.

      That is the whole point of degrees and peer-reviewed research.

      Aurangzeb had his brother killed. On that we agree. As I pointed out, Richard III had his nephews murdered in the tower. Richard III was not a Muslim. Elizabeth Tudor had Mary, Queen of Scots killed. This is what royals did when they felt their power was threatened. So the association of Aurangzeb’s murder of Dara and Dara’s heirs with Islam is frankly dumb.

      1. I pointed to re imposition of jizya also. Not just murder of his brother for religion. It is jizya and death of his brother. Second, Historians as accumulator of facts have merit, historians as interpreters for others do not.Because, as I pointed earlier. there are 210 reasons for collapse of roman civilization. Computer code can be checked, so again comparison with computers is invalid.

        1. If you have no credentials, you just have opinions. Come back when you have acquired an M.A. Degree in Islamic Studies from Harvard.

          Otherwise, there is no reason why I should not consider your opinions to be frankly worthless.


          1. so one needs credentials to question in history? such a pathetic yardstick unlike science. Where there is no limit to asking questions because the methods are very clear. The predictions very well too. Arguments from authority has no place in debates.

          2. One needs credentials in science too. I don’t pretend to understand physics because I don’t hold a Ph.D in theoretical physics.

            You are free to have opinions (those opinions could be really stupid however). But you need to back up your opinion with references to credible secondary sources. This is fairly obvious and what I tell my undergraduate students.

            There is no point talking out of your hat.


  7. Again, science is not argument from authority. At the very least, the math checks out. History comes with facts and how they are tied in to each other. Which is interpretation.

    Satish Chandra, “Jizyah and the State in India during the 17th Century.” Aurangzeb re imposed Jizya in 1679, led to revolts.

    1. The historian’s job is interpretation. This is what you are supposed to learn in a graduate program in history. How to interpret and how to back up your interpretations with references to credible primary and secondary sources.

      Yes, Aurangzeb re-imposed Jizya. Doesn’t make him a bad guy. Just makes him more Orthodox than Akbar. It also doesn’t make him an “Islamist” in the 21st century sense. He was not Al Qaida.

      Audrey Truschke (not a Muslim, so you can’t accuse her of bias) has reassessed Aurangzeb Alamgir in her book “Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King”. She is an Assistant Professor of History at Rutgers University. She knows whereof she speaks. I haven’t read her book, nor am I particularly interested in Aurangzeb. But you could use it as a reference if you genuinely are interested. If you’ve made up your mind that he was a horrible person, then there is no point arguing further with you.


      Here’s a review by an Indian Hindu:


      1. Kabir, Audrey Truschke is famous among Sanathana Dharma people and not in a good way. Not about Aurangzeb but with respect to Freudian post modernist subaltern studies orientalist Indology. Personally I have huge problems with her previous book Culture of Encounters. I have not read her book on Aurangzeb and can’t comment about that book:
        Because of the large role of Indian alumni in funding Stanford I don’t think that Stanford was very comfortable with her and she moved to Rutgers. Of course you can argue that her views on Indology might not be germane to a discussion of Aurangzeb.

        But mentioning her name is likely to cause a digression in this thread to the subject of oriental Indology. I hope to write about this later and Audrey Truschke can be brought up there.

        Yes Aurangzeb wasn’t as bad as Daesh, Al Qaeda, Taliban, LeT, JeM, LeJ/Sipah a Sahabah/Jundullah, IJU/IMU or modern Jihadi groups. Can we agree to disagree on Aurangzeb? [Many Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Sufis, twelvers, sixers are irrationally sensitive on this subject because of what he did to our hero Dara Shikoh, but can we discuss this in an article focused on Aurangzeb?]

        My question is about Islamism post 1900.

        1. I don’t particularly care about Aurangzeb Alamgir. But he was a Mughal king not an “Islamist”.

          Audrey Truschke has a degree in History. She is a professor. At this point, I trust what she says more than what you say. You have yourself said you are an economist, not a historian. But I’m happy to not discuss her. I will only be commenting on my own threads from now on (I keep saying that but this time I really mean it).

          1. And I am bored with degrees and professors, particularly in social sciences. The whole subject is subjective, so degrees and professorships do not matter. Flaunting degrees impresses no one. Place your arguments, period.

          2. Arguments without credentials lack credibility.

            What do you have against social sciences? I could take offense as a social science major 🙂

Comments are closed.

Brown Pundits